My Beauty Farm: Natural Cosmetics in Shanghai

“Ooh, this skin cream looks great,” I have thought on many occasions while strolling through the malls of Shanghai. I lift the product off the shelf and glance at the label out of habit even though I don’t understand a word. More times than I care to admit, I actually took it home and put it on my skin. Big mistake.

Common ingredients in Chinese products include toxic skin whitening chemicals (sometimes even found in deodorant), lead and even arsenic. It doesn’t help if you’re shopping for a brand you already know – sometimes the product is fake. Unfortunately, China isn’t the only country that puts dangerous, unnecessary and often unethical ingredients in their beauty products – this happens all over the world.

Do you want products made with natural ingredients that will make you look, smell and feel beautiful? Back away from that Sephora basket, walk towards the nearest exit and come meet Severine Clement, owner of My Beauty Farm.

Severine was born in France and moved to Shanghai ten years ago where she now lives with her husband and two children. After just one year in this cosmopolitan city of 24 million people, she began making her own cosmetics because she was frustrated with the products she was buying.

“The range of choices was so wide that I never knew if the product I was buying was the best suited for my skin,” Severine explained. “In addition to this, I was not comfortable not knowing what I was applying to my skin.”

She had always been interested in simple cosmetics and was willing to take the time to learn how to make customized cosmetics from natural, pure (and mostly organic) ingredients. Severine had to learn all this by herself because there weren’t any classes that taught how to make DIY natural cosmetics.

At first she would strictly follow recipes that she found online while researching the properties, benefits and uses of various natural ingredients. Later she began adjusting the recipes to suit her own skin and preferences which led to her creating totally new recipes!

“I like selecting the ingredients, creating my own personalized products and adjusting the recipes according to my skin’s needs. I always feel good after hand-crafting my own products. And I like knowing that I’m treating my skin with the best quality ingredients.”

My Beauty Farm is unique because Severine regularly changes her recipes and the products she sells because she adapts them to each customer. She is happy to cater to vegan clients and in general, most of her clients are eco-conscious. In addition to selling quality natural products, she also hosts the very DIY workshops that she wishes she could have attended nine years ago!

“My mission is to empower women to take control of their beauty by sharing my expertise, knowledge and recipes,” Severine says. So far, she has hosted over 60 workshops that have welcomed more than 300 visitors. Although her clients are all based in Shanghai, they come from all over the world.

She organizes workshops two or three times a month and thoroughly enjoys the contact with people as well as teaching something she is passionate about. Now that her kids are getting older, she is slowly introducing them to her hobby by helping them make their own cosmetics. She even organizes DIY workshops for children!

“I believe that everyone’s skin is unique, so I provide one-on-one advice to my customers,” Severine says. Some of her favorite ingredients include rosehip carrier oil, geranium, essential oil, cacao butter and rose floral water.

I myself discovered Severine when I was in search of vegan essential oils. I had purchased several essential oils on Taobao but wasn’t quite satisfied. The peppermint oil that I got from her is light and fragrant; I’ve worn it every day as perfume and I’m looking forward to discovering its many health benefits.

Find out more about My Beauty Farm and Severine’s DIY workshops on her Facebook page or add her on WeChat (ID = SeverineClement).

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Tibet Adventures: Chapter 1 – Lhasa

I’m in bed at our hotel, trying to sleep. We’ve read so much about the fabled “Altitude Sickness,” and now it’s finally happening. Olena, by some miracle, is sleeping peacefully to my right. She had a headache and some carsickness on the bus ride to the hotel, but aside from that she’s been fine. I was also feeling generally ok, albeit a little tired from
travelling, until I tried to sleep. I just can’t seem to get enough air, and every time I almost drift off, I snap awake, gasping.

On the bed to my right, it sounds like my Dad is going through the same thing. Every few seconds he utters a big sigh, and tosses one way and turns the other. Look like it’ll be a long night! It’s only 7:30 PM and my alarm is set to wake us up at the same time AM. My mind tries to relax, and takes stock of the day’s events…

2

After the plane landed, we were told not to take ANY pictures at the airport because it’s a military airport, and God forbid some Western tourist posts a picture of a Chinese tank on WeChat. As we descended the staircase to the bus, I was reminded that we are still in China by the six or seven people shamelessly clicking away right next to the plane,  heedless of the guards standing just two meters away. “Hey, no fair!” said Olena “I want to film!” After I’d seen that the guards weren’t reacting in the slightest to the obstreperous behaviour of the other passengers, I took out my own phone and started snapping too. “Go ahead and film” I said, grinning. “What are they gonna do, throw us in
jail?”

This joke began to feel a bit too real as we passed the armored guards with AK-47s. It looked like they do take security pretty seriously here! We managed to get by them unscathed, and no arrests were made.

While we were waiting for our bags, I started to feel a bit lightheaded. Was it Altitude Sickness (I had decided it deserved the proper noun status) or just the expectation of it? Either way, it wasn’t bad enough to tempt me to buy the bottles of oxygen they were selling right next to me, or the alleged “Miracle Drink” that promised to erase your
symptoms. When our bags arrived, we stepped out into the Lhasa sunshine.

And man was it BRIGHT! My phone claimed it was only 16 degrees Celsius, but we all immediately discarded our extra layers. In the shade, 16 felt about right, but in the sun it could be as much as 25. No wonder everyone recommended bringing sun screen!

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We’re at a family kitchen restaurant in Tibet. We are eating yummy, well-deserved Tibetan food for incredible prices. We have ordered two traditional Tibetan classics: bobi and momos. For Bobi, they gave us a large tray with lots of ingredients to make our own little burritos. We went for the vegetarian kind, and it was delicious! Same with the momos, which are a bit like deep-fried dumplings. My dad, of course, is sitting next to us devouring a large yak steak. To each his own!

This first day is already taking its toll on us. After we arrived at the airport and were welcomed by our guide, we boarded a bus to head to the center of Lhasa. It took about an hour, and along the way Olena got quite car sick. She does get car sick from time to time, so we wondered: was this normal, or Altitude Sickness striking already?

It turned out that the latter was much more likely. We arrived at our hotel and immediately plopped down on the beds. We were faced with a dilemma: stay in or go out to eat? We were very hungry, and we had heard about this amazing family kitchen nearby. According to Trip Advisor, it was the highest-rated restaurant in Lhasa. Was it worth the effort? We eventually decided yes, and we set out on the streets of Lhasa. My dad was even more tired than us, but he trudged on nonetheless!

For now, we skipped shopping at the many trinket shops along the main street of Lhasa. It was quite reminiscent of China, and Olena and I thought, not for the first time, that the culture here isn’t much different, at least these days. There’s a Tibetan layer of culture in the air for sure, but it’s a bit hidden under the newer Chinese façade. This struck me as a bit sad, and my heart went out to those who were still trying to hold on to their ethnic roots.

Anyway, how did we get to this restaurant? Well, it’s a long story so… Short answer: don’t trust Google Maps in China. We followed its directions to “Tibetan Family Kitchen” by Didi (China’s version of Uber) and ended up in the middle of nowhere. Finally, we took another Didi back to where we started, and were so hungry that we just went with the first place with the words “Family Kitchen” posted outside it. It’s not the one from Trip Advisor, but it is quite good! We would eventually visit the real one the next day, but to be honest, this one was actually better!

 

To be continued…

 

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A Song of Ice and Tired – An Unforgettable Week in Tibet

Our plane is descending towards Gonggar Airport in Lhasa, Tibet. Looking over my father’s lap and out the window, I see more mountains than this New Englander could ever expect to see back home. The clouds circle around the mountain peaks like the fog from dry ice, and presently a larger one passes under our plane, momentarily obstructing the view.

“Pickle! Where’s the snow?” my wife Olena asks, “I was promised snowy mountains on this trip!”

She’s right, actually. When the clouds clear again, as far as I can see there are only dusty, brown mountains, like so many peaks of chocolate mousse in a bowl below us. “Don’t worry,” I assure her, “These are just hills. The real mountains come later!”

The plane’s PA announces that we’ll be landing in 20 minutes, giving me some time to reflect on how this whole journey started. How is it that we are on a plane to Lhasa, Tibet, with the plan of visiting Mount Everest Base Camp in just a few days?

Prologue – How Did We Get Here?

It started back in May, when we were still living in Huaqiao, Jiangsu. Before we moved to Shanghai. As she is often wont to do, Olena was searching for deals to random locations using Skyscanner.com. The idea had previously come up to visit Tibet, but it was kind of a pipe dream because of the price tag and the complicated visa process. A normal Chinese visa is far from enough to be allowed to visit Tibet. We thought we could possibly save up the money, but it would cost as much as three smaller trips to closer places in China or nearby.

I brought up the idea in passing on the phone with my dad, David. To my surprise, he said on the spot he would love to go with us and that he would pay for the whole thing! I was stunned, and didn’t know how to properly express my gratitude. To be sure he was serious, I explained to him just how much it would be, but if you’ve ever met David
Roosa, you know that “Generosity” would be a much better middle name than Ebertson.” So, we began to plan the trip.

Instead of boring you with twelve paragraphs about the visa provess, I’ll just run through what was necessary:

1. Contact TibetTravel.org and tell them the dates we want to go
2. Pay a deposit for the trip
3. Book flights, including my Dad’s to Shanghai
4. Write an invitation letter for my dad so he could get a Chinese visa
5. Use TravelVisaPro to apply for my dad’s China visa
6. Send copies of all our passports and visas to TibetTravelVisa
7. Finally get Tibet Travel Permits in the mail

This last step happened two days before our flight left. That’s right, we got our permits just two days before leaving for Tibet. The Travel Gods were apparently with us. My Dad flew to Shanghai, stayed at a hotel near us for a few days to get over the jetlag, and we hopped on a plane at 6:45 AM from Pudong Airport.

Now I can hear the captain announcing that we are landing, and all electronics should be switched off. Here we go!
See you in Lhasa!

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Shanghai Event Review: Ship of Dreams – The Titanic Experience

The Ship of Dreams – The Titanic Experience is only a once in a lifetime adventure if you can resist going twice!

When you’re not part of the crowd following Jack and Rose as they fall in love, you can enjoy some champagne on deck, watch the Captain have a few too many drinks or just explore the ship’s 1912-themed interior. These are just a few of the exciting possibilities aboard the Shanghai-docked Titanic!

Starting November 1st, you can become a guest on board the Titanic for an interactive theater experience. Until November 25th, the Ship of Dreams will sail away every night at 19:00 and will immerse you in the early 1900s. From the actors’ authentic costumes to the decor onboard the vessel, you’ll barely notice Shanghai’s famous skyline passing by.

My first night on the Titanic started off with wine and (surprisingly) vegan spring rolls. Guests around me sampled the wide variety of desserts and beverages while I got my brearings. The dining hall featured live music, dancing and other performances as well as a themed cocktail list.

With everyone dressed in floor-length sparkling dresses and classy suits, actors casually blended in. It wasn’t immediately obvious who was part of the show and who wasn’t. Walking around, I soon noticed dodgy man in search for something, a woman looking out at the ocean sadly and a young man scribbling in his scruffy notebook. *hint hint*

It took a while to make a full loop around the boat and I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable number of people on board. Most of the passengers were following the main actors, which is how I found my way to Rose. To get inside her room, I had to slip in behind a couple who bribed the guard at the door. In the dimly lit room, I got my first glimpse of Rose, Cal and the Heart of the Ocean.

As Rose left the room, I had to make the difficult decision – to follow her or one of the many other characters? Throughout the night I would alternate following Rose, Jack or someone else. Since the play has 30 different storylines, it’s not an easy choice to make. However, the solution is pretty simple: go more than once!

I won’t spoil the rest of the experience, but trust me when I say it was completely unforgettable. The passionate actors were enchanting and managed to perfectly balance audience interaction with staying in character, and at other times acting as if they were the only ones in the room.

The audience had full control over their level of involvement in the play, although the characters only responded when appropriate. Some guests took full advantage and went out of their way to engage with the actors while others preferred to watch silently, just enjoying the moment.

Although everyone on board knew how the story would end, we were all pulled in by the dramatic buildup to the finale. There was excitement, commotion, pushing, shoving and desperate life vest bribing. I’m not going to say any more, but please don’t worry, no fancy suits or swooshing dresses got wet in the finale.

All in all, the Titanic Experience was truly unique and extremely well excecuted. After enjoying first-class treatment the first time around, I’m excited to return as a crew member next week for a completely new perspective on the Ship of Dreams.

There are several types of tickets to choose from:

  • First Class (including a 7-course dinner): 5,000 RMB
  • Lucky Traveler (including free-flow drinks): 880 RMB
  • Special Crew Member: 680 RMB
  • American Dreamer: 180 RMB (Students only)

Since the first time I followed the main storyline and focused on Jack and Rose, I will spend my second night on the Titanic discovering one of the other storylines. As a crew member I will supposedly have access to places where other passengers can’t go which is too tempting to pass up!

Are you curious to see behind the scenes, meet the Unsinkable Molly Brown or just see what the Titanic hype is all about? Book your tickets today! Thank you DreamWeaver Productions and the DeTao School of Design for the unforgetable night that transformed the Huangpu river feel like the Atlantic ocean.

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